In the examination of the anthroponomastic situation of Sasanian times, priority treatment must be given to the names attested in non-literary, i.e., epigraphic sources (in the broadest sense of the word). The main reason for this is that only a small part of the personal names appearing in the Zoroastrians’ books in Middle Persian language or in the Manichean literature has a direct connection with the Sasanian empire. In the Pahlavi literature several hundreds of personal names or of patronymic formations are indeed attested, but the persons mentioned there are of a very different character, a great many of them being alleged ancestors of Zarathustra, members of his family, literary characters, or other legendary or historical persons known already from the surviving books of the Avesta. With the Sasanian kings and princes, provincial governors, high officials, and military leaders things are clearer, but the religious and juridical authorities appearing there, the Zoroastrian priests (mōbeds, hērbeds) and scholars, the authors and scribes of Zoroastrian writings, and the persons mentioned in connection with some juridical case can be put in chronological order only in exceptional cases. Of the Manichean literature of Central Asia, it is important to consider the writings concerning ecclesiastical history, which deal with the Sasanian state and sometimes mention kings and dignitaries of that time by name. Among the Iranian (Middle Persian, but also Parthian or Sogdian) personal names of Manicheans (for which see Sundermann, 1994), those of Manichean churchmen, which go back to the 3rd century CE, are particularly characteristic formations derived from theonyms or anthroponyms. But the bulk of the Manichean names (of laymen) belong to the 8th–11th centuries and thus in terms of onomastics have very little to do with the Sasanians. As to their formation they correspond in all essentials to the personal names attested elsewhere in Middle Persian sources, including even the so-called ‘dummy dvandvas’ (see iv., above), as we find them in names such as Mihr-Wahman or Tīr-Mihr.

A comprehensive treatment of all the Middle Persian personal names attested in inscriptions, papyri, ostraca, coins (for which see also Alram, 1986, pp. 186–214), seals, etc. is available in Gignoux, 1986 (with a supplement [up to 2001] of 2003), who concerned himself in particular with hunting out the evidence from the countless seals and bullae so widely distributed over public and private collections. For the late Sasanian period the economic and administrative documents from Egypt (which was occupied by the Persians in 619–28 C. E.), both Greek (see Huyse, 1990) and Middle Persian papyri, parchments, and ostraca are of special interest. Moreover, there are also ostraca from various sites in Persia itself, mostly receipts issued for goods. Unfortunately, the interpretation of all these texts is rendered difficult by their fragmentary character and their extremely cursive writing (see Weber, 1992, and Huyse, 1995).

Middle Persian names, and all the various types known from the native tradition, are found also in some branches of the collateral tradition, especially in Armenian (where, however, they take second place to the Parthian onomastic borrowings [for which see section iv., above]) and in Syriac. The evidence of Iranian anthroponyms attested in the Syriac Acts of the Persian Martyrs heretofore has been somewhat neglected since the epoch-making text edition by Hoffmann (1880; see, however, Gignoux 1975–1976 and 1982).

Typology and morphology of names. Among the Middle Persian anthroponyms attested in the religious sources (both Zoroastrian and Manichean) as well as secular sources, all the inherited types of names are found, as their morphological analysis has clearly shown (cf. Gignoux, 1979; Gignoux, 1987; Zimmer, 1991; Sundermann, 1994, pp. 255 ff.). In addition there are also younger formations of a secondary origin, which took place only on the Middle Iranian level. A remarkable peculiarity of the Zoroastrian tradition is the names that are mere transcriptions of Avestan forms into Pahlavi (cf. Cereti, 2000; Cereti, in prep.). Altogether it must be said, that the frequency of the various types of names has changed if compared with Old Iranian. Two-stem names are still extant, but no longer prevalent, and there is only a relatively small number of forms which may be understood as direct continuants of Old Iranian names: thus, e.g., MPers. gwnd-ply Gunda-farr from OPers. Vinda-farnah-, hwslwb, etc. Hu-srav from OIr. *Hu-sravah-, mtrdʾtMihr-dād from OIr. *Miθra-dāta-. In many cases of names such as MPers. dʾtpl Dād-farr and OIr. *Dāta-farnah- (as attested in El. Da- [ad-]da-bar-na, Gk. Dataphérnēs) an independent new formation cannot be excluded in spite of the exact formal correspondence to be seen.

The inherited types of personal names may be illustrated by the following examples, which are taken mostly from Gignoux, 1986 (followed by the relevant number, for further information):

A.i. (single-stem full names). plḥw Farrox (no. 352) from OIr. *Farnah-vant- ‘Being full of splendor (of happiness)”; štrp Šahrab (no. 868) from the title MPers. šahrab, based on OIr. (non-Pers.) *xšaθra-pā/ă- “satrap”;

A.ii. (two-stem full names):

A.ii.1 (possessive compounds): ʾtwlpln Ādur-farr (no. 53) from OIr. *Ātṛ-farnah- (cf. Av. Ātərə-xvarənah-) “Possessing the splendor of the fire” (see section iii., above); gwštsp Guštasp (no. 423), wštʾspy Vištāsp (no. 1013) from OPers. Vištāspa- and Av. Vīštāspa- respectively;

A.ii.2 (determinative compounds): ʾtwrpʾt Ādur-bād (no. 33) from OIr. *AÚtær-pāta- “Protected by the Fire-god” (cf. Av. Ātərə-pāta-); ʾtwrdʾt Ādur-dād (no. 46) from OIr. *Ātṛ-dāta- “Given by the Fire-god” (cf. Av. Ātərə-dāta-); mtrbwḥt Mihr-buxt (no. 638) from OIr. *Miθra-buxta- “Saved by Mithra”; mtrdʾt Mihr-dād (no. 639) from OIr. *Miθra-dāta-, whereas names like ʾwḥrmzddʾt Ohrmazd-dād (no. 709) are secondary formations (replacing, in the case given, OIr. *Ahura-dāta- and/or *Mazdā-dāta-);

A.ii.3 (governing compounds): gwndply Gunda-farr (no. 401) from OPers. Vinda-farnah- “Being blessed with splendor”; Man. MPers. Nox-dār “Holding the first rank”;

A.ii.4 (inverted forms): dʾtʾwḥrmzd Dād-Ohrmazd (no. 292) formed by inversion of Ohrmazd-dād (see above); this and other examples of the type are clear signs of mechanical joining of the two elements and indicate that theonyms, in particular, could be used ad lib. as the first or second element of a name;

B.i.1 (single-stem short names): dʾt Dād (no. 270) from OIr. *Dāta- (attested in El. Da-ad-da), based on the many compounds containing this element; mtl(y) Mihr (no. 613) from OIr. *Miθra- and the theophoric names with this theonym;

B.ii.1 (single-stem hypocoristics): bwḥtkyBuxt-ag (no. 254) based on some compound in OIr. *-buxta- “saved by” (see A.ii.2, above); mtlky Mihr-ag (no. 629) based on OIr. *Miθra-ka- (as in Aram. mtrk, Gk. Mithrákēs); cḥlyt(-ʾn) Čaxrīd (no. 267) based on OIr. *Čaxr-ita-, i.e., *čaxra- “wheel” and the hypocoristic suffix -ita-; mtrʾt Mihr-ād (no. 615) based on the theonym and suffixed by *-āta- as OIr. *Miθr-āta- (reflected by Bab. Mi-it-ra-a-tu, Gk. Mithrátēs, etc.).

Apart from certain cases that are difficult to judge (such as bwlcʾcʾt Burz-āzād [no. 237], seemingly “Grand-and-noble,” but presumably not a real copulative compound), there are special innovations of Middle Persian anthroponomastics, among them the peculiar type of the ‘dummy dvandvas’. These new formations so typical for Middle Iranian are characterized by containing two (or even more) theonyms. Suffice it here to illustrate this rather frequent type (for a fuller treatment, see Gignoux, 1979, pp. 72 ff.) with a few examples: Ādur-Anāhīd, -Māh, -Mihr, -Ohrmazd; Mihr-Ādur, -Ohrmazd, -Vahrām; Tīr-Māh, -Mihr, -Ohrmazd, etc. Two particular points must be stressed in this connection: firstly, that the names of the sacred fires of Sasanian Iran (esp. Farrbay and Gušnasp) are also part of this anthroponomastic subsystem, and, secondly, that there are forms containing the element bg-/-bgBay-/-bay (from OIr. *baga- “god”), the supposed theonymic character of which is rather controversial. Moreover the interpretation of the ‘dummy dvandvas’ as a whole is in dispute, and it seems to me over-optimistic to keep several groups of such formations apart and to identify a basic stock of genuine dvandvas (pace Zimmer, 1984, pp. 292 ff.). Also the reference to the calendar, namely, to the names of days and months, as proposed by Schmitt (1988, p. 271) is mere speculation. Not least, the numerous three- and four-part formations like Ādur-Farrbay-Gušnasp, Burz-Māh-Gušnasp, Māh-Ādur-Frāy-Gušnasp, Māh-Ādur-Ohrmazd, or Mihr-Ādur-Farrbay seem to indicate that originally they were shorter forms and only expanded by some additional element (in an agglutinative manner, as it were), or even are newly-formed compounds based on a two-stem full name as their first or second element.

Motives of name-giving; use of the names. Examples for the traditional customs of name-giving can be found also in Middle Persian in large number. Thus the names of father and son often have one element in common, e.g., in “Dād-Farrox, son of Dād-Ādur,” or are even fully identical in cases like “Dād-Ohrmazd, son of Dād-Ohrmazd” (see Gignoux, 1979, pp. 57f.; Zimmer, 1991, pp. 114f.). Here the various ways of giving the father’s name or the family name may be mentioned. For this purpose the patronymic (or “propatronymic”) formations in -ʾn-ān and -kʾn -agān were used, normally joined to the son’s (or daughter’s) idionym by means of the relative particle ī (e.g., Ardaxšīr ī Pābagān “Ardaxšīr, son of Pābag”), or partly without ī owing to Parthian influence. Sometimes the father’s name is added to the son’s idionym unchanged, with or without the word for “son” (MPers. pus). The family name is expressed by a construction such as Dād(a)rōy ī az Husravdād-ān “Dād (a)rōy from [the family] of Husravdād” (cf. Huyse, 1995, p. 363).

Theophoric personal names are already very common in the Old Iranian period, but their percentage may have increased later. A number of theonymic elements (including the names of the great sacred fires [see Zimmer, 1991, pp. 138 f.]) appear most frequently: Ādur, Anāhīd, (Ādur-)Farrbay, (Ādur-)Gušnasp, Māh, Mihr, Ohrmazd, and Vahrām. The same is true for the names of some of the Sasanian kings, which obviously have frequently been re-used (esp. Ardaxšīr, Šābuhr, Narseh, Vahrām, and Husrav). A special problem connected with part of the theophoric anthroponyms is posed by those names that are supposed to be related to the calendar. All interpretations, however, that go beyond the type of name formed by a divine name plus the element -dād “given by” as, e.g., MPers. Māh-dād “Given by Māh [the Moon-god] (as genius of the 12th day)” (for which see Schmitt, 2000) are pure speculation: e.g., the supposed allusions to the names of planets, of the zodiac and the like.

As women’s names, several types of new formations have become productive; they were intended to characterize these names more clearly and to distinguish them better from men’s names, since the inherited distinguishing features had become unrecognizable. These new formations are of the following types: (1) theophoric short names consisting only of the name of a goddess (e.g., Spandarmad) or two-stem forms with such a name as their second element (e.g., Ādur-Anāhīd); (2) determinative compounds formed with MPers. -duxt “daughter” (attested in dozens of examples), which should not be taken too literally, however, as becomes clear, e.g., in Yazdān-duxt “daughter of the gods” or in cases where the real father’s name, known from some other source, is not the one appearing before the element -duxt; but the actual meaning of duxt in those forms remains uncertain, all the more so since we find quite different first elements, not only theonyms (as, e.g., in Ohrmazd-duxt) or names of persons (as, e.g., in Narseh-duxt), and therefore may suppose that it is only the frequent occurrence of the elements that matters; (3) similar compounds with the adjective anōš “sweet, charming, dear (lit. immortal)” corresponding to Armenian names in -anoyš such as Xosrov-anoyš, etc. (as assumed by Schmitt, 1988, pp. 268 f.).



M. Alram, IranischesPersonennamenbuch, vol. IV: NominaPropria Iranica in Nummis. Materialgrundlagen zu den iranischen Personennamenauf antiken Münzen, Vienna, 1986.

C. Cereti, “On Zoroaster’s genealogy,” in Ph. Huyse, ed., Iran: Questions et connaissances. Actes du IVeCongrès Européen des Études Iraniennes I: La période ancienne, Paris, 2002, pp. 29–45.

Idem, Iranisches Personennamenbuch, vol. II, fasc. 4: Proper names in the Zoroastrian Middle Persian literature, Vienna (in prep.). Ph. Gignoux, “Sur quelques noms propres iraniens transcrits en syriaque,” Parolede l’Orient 6–7, 1975–1976, pp. 515–24.

Idem, “Les noms propres en moyen-perse épigraphique: Étude typologique,” in Idem, ed., Pad nām i yazdān: Études d’épigraphie, de numismatique et d’histoire de l’Iran ancien, Paris, 1979, pp. 35–100.

Idem, “Éléments de prosopographie de quelques mōbads sasanides,” JA 270, 1982, pp. 257–69.

Idem, Iranisches Personennamenbuch II, fasc. 2: Noms propres sassanides en moyen-perse épigraphique, Vienna, 1986; fasc. 3: Supplément [1986–2001], Vienna (2003).

Idem, “L’apport de l’onomastique sassanide à la philologie iranienne,” in G. Bolognesi and V. Pisani, eds., Linguistica e Filologia. Atti del VII Convegno Internazionale diLinguisti, Brescia, 1987, pp. 291–300.

G. Hoffmann, Auszüge aus syrischenAkten persischer Märtyrer, übersetzt und durch Untersuchungen zur histo rischenTopographie erläutert, AKM VII, 3, Leipzig, 1888 (repr. Nendeln, 1966).

Ph. Huyse, Iranisches Personennamenbuch, vol. V, fasc. 6a, IranischeNamen in den griechischen Dokumenten Ägyptens, Vienna, 1990.

Idem, “Die mittelpersische Papyrologie: Fortschritte und Ziele einer jungen Wissenschaft,” IIJ 38, 1995, pp. 357–67.

R. Schmitt, “Compte rendu,” Stud. Ir. 17, 1988, pp. 266–71.

Idem, “Kalenderbezogene Personennamengebung im vorislamischen Iran,” in L. Dubois and E. Masson, eds., Philokypros: Mélanges de philologie etd’antiquités grecques et proche-orientales dédiés à la mémoire d’OlivierMasson, Salamanca, 2000, pp. 267–76.

W. Sundermann, “Iranische Personennamen der Manichäer,” Die Sprache 36, 1994, pp. 244–70.

D. Weber, Ostraca, Papyri und Pergamente: Textband, Corpus Inscr. Iran. III/IV and V, London, 1992.

St. Zimmer, “Iran. baga- – ein Gottesname?” MSS 43, 1984, pp. 187–215.

Idem, “Zur sprachlichen Deutung sasanidischer Personennamen,” AoF 18, 1991, pp. 109–50.

(Rüdiger Schmitt)

Originally Published: July 20, 2005

Last Updated: July 20, 2005